Bears Training Camp Diary: Day 13
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Bears Training Camp Diary: Day 13

We break down in great detail the second to last practice of 2013 Chicago Bears Training Camp, which included a struggling offensive line, a standout second-year receiver and much more.

It was another hot, humid morning in Bourbonnais today. Temperatures only rose into the low 80s, yet the air felt like warm soup. There was a decent breeze, which helped to keep Bears fans, who packed the bleachers on a Monday morning, nice and cool.

Injuries

-WR Earl Bennett (concussion) and DT Henry Melton (concussion) were not in attendance. Coach Marc Trestman said Bennett is currently recovering at home.

"He's just in the protocol, he's at home and there's been no change from yesterday," said Trestman. "I always walk in there and check to see where he's at and I generally text him after practice, so there's no change from yesterday." -LB D.J. Williams (calf), RB Harvey Unga (ribs), RB Armando Allen (hamstring) and T Jonathan Scott (knee) did not practice. Allen today was designated as week-to-week, which is not a great sign for the third-year player.

-WR Joe Anderson (shoulder) was dressed today and participated in positional drills yet he spent the rest of practice on the sidelines. The same goes for DE Julius Peppers, who has been mainly a spectator in practice the past week.

-Late in practice, DE Cheta Ozougwu left the field with a hamstring injury.

Notes from Day 13

-WR Alshon Jeffery is on the verge of a special season. From what he's shown in camp, Jeffery is ready to be a household name in Chicago. Two plays during 11-on-11s demonstrated his potential this year.

The first came against Charles Tillman. At the snap, Jeffery took two steps forward, and then gave a head-fake to the outside. He then snapped his body inside on a slant route. Tillman froze on the head fake and had no chance of breaking up the pass. Yet the ball was thrown high, as almost all of Jay Cutler's passes are. In stride, Jeffery used his length and extended for the pass. He reached out and the ball stuck in his hands like glue.

The second came against Tim Jennings. Jeffery was running down the right numbers with Jennings in his hip. Cutler threw a high pass to his receiver's back shoulder. Jeffery found the pass, rotated his body around and leaped for the ball all in one motion. By the time Jennings figured out what was going on, Jeffery had already made the catch. After the play, RB Matt Forte put his arm around Jennings as if to say, "What can you do? He's just too good."

In those two plays, Jeffery easily beat a pair of Pro Bowl and All-Pro cornerbacks, and it wasn't even close. If they can't stop him, who can?

Isaiah Frey, that's who. The only defender to stop Jeffery all day, Frey undercut a pass and knocked the ball up in the air, which DE Corey Wootton nearly intercepted. The kid is good.

-There's no way of sugarcoating this: The offensive line is a mess. This morning, the coaching staff used the same lines as yesterday. Your starters: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C Roberto Garza, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills. I know that J'Marcus Webb and Eben Britton have had their issues so far in camp but Mills is not an upgrade by any means. His performance on the right edge was arguably the worst of any offensive lineman in camp.

He was beat routinely by whoever lined up across from him and has no idea how to pick up a blitz. On one play, Wootton was on the right side, with Frey to his left. At the snap, Frey blitzed around the edge. Mills was not prepared for the blitz and did not know who to block, so he just let them both have a free run at the quarterback.

On the next snap, Wootton used a bull rush that drove Mills so far backward, it forced Cutler to tuck the ball and run, something he doesn't do very often in practice. During 1-on-1 drills, Mills was beaten badly by DT Brent Russell, who is arguably the worst defensive lineman in camp.

I understand that Mills is young and has upside, but I'm about as ready for prime time as he is. It will be a shock if he ends up the Week 1 starter on the right edge. And if he is, the offensive is in a lot of trouble.

-Kyle Long had a strong day yesterday but he took a step backward today. It doesn't help having a sieve blocking next to you but Long was not on his game. During 1-on-1 drills, DT Stephen Paea drove Long literally 15 yards backward. It was like Long was on roller skates. As do most rookies, Long has struggled with his consistency. The hope is that a day like today will help him get better in the long-term.

-Corey Wootton was the main reason Long and Mills looked so bad today. Wootton dinged his hip last week and sat out the preseason opener. Since then, he's been limited in practice but today he looked 100 percent and he took the lion's share of snaps with the first team.

Wootton destroyed Mills all day, using spin moves, speed rushes and bull rushes to get into the backfield. Eventually, the coaching staff began giving help on the right side, but that didn't stop Wootton. On one snap, he flew right around TE Leonard Pope, who has been pretty solid in pass protection. If he can stay healthy, Wootton can make the Pro Bowl this year.

"Corey has done a good job as far as adjusting to everything, coming inside and doing whatever we ask him to do," said defensive line coach Mike Phair. "He gives us everything he has and he's getting better."

-Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker rolled out his rover defense again today. Last week, he used DT Henry Melton and DE Kyle Moore in the rover, or "jack", position. Today, it was Stephen Paea and Nate Collins in two-point stances. Both players shuffled along the line of scrimmage before rushing from a stand-up position two yards off the ball. On one occasion, Paea even dropped into coverage.

This is the second time in camp the Bears have used the jack formation. I asked Phair if it's something the team will use when the games matter.

"It's nothing fancy. Just a little different look," Phair said. "We've just got something a little different and we're kind of trying it out. Who knows if it's going to work out. I don't know if it's going to work out."

Collins also had reservations about the formation's use in the regular season.

"It's just practice. I don't know if we'll actually get to do it," said Collins. "You've got to practice it. You never know if in a game, if they feel we can exploit something and do that, I feel comfortable. We're getting our work in now doing it. It's definitely weird but all the D-linemen, we feel like we're athletes, so we get juiced up to actually do something like that."

-Even though he had a horrible game against Carolina last week – dropping a touchdown, and alligator-arming a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown – tight end Fendi Onobun still appears to be in Chicago's plans as the backup pass-catching tight end. He took a number of reps with the first team today.

On one play, Onobun was wide open down the left sideline. Cutler fired a bullet that Onobun had to reach up and grab. Throughout camp, off-target passes have eaten him up, but on this play, Onobun snatched the ball out of the air without even so much as a bobble. He's not the next Tony Gonzalez, but Onobun is improving slowly.

-During 1-on-1 drills today, DT Zach Minter was flat-out unstoppable. On his first snap, he lined up at defensive end and tore past J'Marcus Webb with an outside rush. On his next rep, he used a quick step to shuffle right past Edwin Williams. And on his third snap, he destroyed Matt Slauson with a power move inside.

Minter has come on strong of late and has been taking reps with the second team the past two practices. Corvey Irvin is still ahead of Minter on the depth chart but if Minter keeps playing like he did today, he could turn into the frontrunner for the club's No. 4 defensive tackle position.

"You saw it on tape; he's got a good get-off," said Phair. "He's got some tools, he's just learning. Every time those guys get reps, they get a chance to get better. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but you just learn from it every chance you get. He's another guy that's got some tools. We've just got to keep working him."

-P.J. Lonergan, working at left guard with the third team, and A.J. Lindeman, working at right tackle with the third team, looked horrible in 1-on-1 drills. They didn't have much of a shot to make the team heading into camp but it's obvious neither player deserves it.

-Speaking of struggling offensive linemen, Eben Britton had a really bad day. Besides his duties as the second-team right tackle, Britton has been working as the third-team center the past two practices. He struggled a bit with his shotgun snaps yesterday and put in extra work after practice to get it right.

That extra work did not pay off. Today, he snapped balls in the dirt all practice. On almost every single snap, the ball came in skipping to the quarterback. Britton has never played center before, so his issues are not surprising. Yet what is he doing there in the first place?

Let's break it down. Roberto Garza is the starter at center. He's a player who almost never misses a game and brings veteran leadership to the front five. Around him, it's nothing but moving parts. Edwin Williams began camp as the backup center but he has been moved to left guard, with Taylor Boggs filling in at the pivot. Boggs has not stood out, so offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has experimented with Matt Slauson at center, and now Britton.

To me, this means the club doesn't want to keep a player just to be Garza's backup. They would rather one of the top eight offensive linemen be able to slide inside. In that way, the team doesn't have to waste a roster spot on a pure center to back up Garza.

"We have to get Eben work obviously just as a safety measure," Trestman said. "Matt Slauson's done very well in his minimal snaps, so I feel good about having Matt there. Obviously you don't want to move two positions if something were to happen to Roberto. We have a group of guys, we have a set of guys and we can make that move if we had to."

With that in mind, here are the eight offensive linemen that, in all likelihood, will make the team this year: Bushrod, Slauson, Garza, Long, Mills, Webb, Brown and Britton. If Jonathan Scott ever returns to the field, he could unseat Britton, but from what I'm told, Scott may need a scope on his ailing knee, which could keep him out another three-to-four weeks.

-With Joe Anderson not participating in team drills, Devin Aromashodu once again took his spot with the first team. Yet Marquess Wilson also got a snap with the ones for the first time in camp. Wilson looked great in the preseason game, leading the team in receptions (4) and receiving yards (83), so he's obviously in the mix for the fifth and final receiver spot.

Yet we all know that Wilson has to be a contributor on special teams if he's going to make the final 53. He didn't do it in college, so the coaching staff isn't sure yet if he can handle those duties.

"[He needs] to make some plays," said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "We're going to put him out there and see what he can do. We've all seen him run but we need to see what kind of contact player he is. We're looking forward to it this week."

Rapid Fire

-YouTube sensation and former Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams was in attendance today, wearing a "Slab City" T-shirt.

-During 11-on-11 drills, running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush lined up the same backfield. Forte then motioned to the right H-back spot before the snap. I expect we'll see more of this as the season progresses.

-Before he left with a hamstring injury, Cheta Ozougwu was having a very good day. During 1-on-1 drills, he beat Britton with a speed rush outside. On his next snap, he set up Webb to the outside and then spun back inside with a lightning-quick spin move that would have resulted in an easy sack. With Peppers sitting out most of the session, Ozougwu took a lot of snaps with the starters. He needs to get back on the field. If he does, Ozougwu can challenge Kyle Moore for the fourth DT position.

-During the second set of 1-on-1 drills, Kyle Long lined up at right tackle, with Jordan Mills inside at right guard. Yet when the team huddled up for 11-on-11s, both players were back at their normal positions. Trestman said there is no plan to move Long to the right edge but obviously Kromer wanted a look at the rookie on the right side.

-DT Stephen Paea was a beast in 1-on-1 drills. He could not be blocked by anyone.

-Trestman quote of the day: "Do your job on this play. That's all that matters."


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.